Labour Views January 14, 2015

Written by Gayla Thunstrom ,  NWT Vice President, Northern Territories Federation of Labour

First Vice President, Union of Northern Workers

Labour was under attack nationally and territorially in 2014 and faces major challenges in the year ahead.

The Federal Government waged a fierce attack on workers’ rights to organize and govern their unions.

The Conservatives passed their omnibus Bill C-4, which stripped away basic health and safety regulations for workers. The law took away the right to strike from many federal public sector workers through a broadened “essential service” classification.

Conservative backbenchers also introduced two anti-union private members bills. Bill C-377—dubbed a “union transparency act” is an attempt to pry opens the books and political strategies of unions.

Bill C-525 attacks card-check certification in the federal sector and makes it more difficult for federal sector workers to form unions. Bill C-525 was passed Dec. 16, 2014 despite significant errors in the wording and content of the bill.  Bill C-377 will be reviewed shortly.

Both bills were developed in partnership with anti-union think tanks and slander union accountability in providing financial and other information to members.

On the territorial scene, workers are facing a claw back of their pensions, contracting-out of public services and increasing use of public private partnerships (P3s).

Just four short months ago, Unions first learned of Bill 12, Northern Employee Benefits Services Pension Plan Act. This legislation, if passed will allow the retroactive reduction of pension benefits preciously protected by indexing, among other reductions.  The NWT Bill 12 provides law to govern the Northern Employee Benefits Services (NEBS) Pension Plan of more than 1,000 workers in the NWT and Nunavut.

The labour movement fought back through public protests, presentations to committee reviewing the bill and lobbying of MLAs.  These efforts paid off, as debate on the bill has been delayed for research and possible amendments to protect the benefits promised when workers joined NEBS.  The bill will come back for review in the winter Legislative Assembly session.

The threat to public health care services through contracting out reared its ugly head at Stanton Territorial Hospital in 2014.  With no formal notice and no consultation as required under the collective agreement, the GNWT issued a request for contract proposals which would result in the lay-offs of hospital maintenance and other workers.  With catering and housekeeping already contracted out, the privatization proposals are a further step towards the possible privatization of core health care services.  Privatization and P3’s are very real threats to workers, and the labour movement will fight back!

Every citizen has a critical role to play in ensuring fairness for workers and our communities.  2015 is the year for citizens to replace the politicians that caused all of this turmoil.  All citizens committed to social justice and fair economic treatment for workers can work to elect progressive leaders in the federal, territorial and municipal elections taking place this year.  It’s time to exercise our democratic rights as citizens and VOTE.

It’s our democracy, let’s take control!